Skip to content

Voices for Safer Care

Insights from the Armstrong Institute


A roadmap for patient safety and quality improvement

This month the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) published a new report that identifies the most promising practices for improving patient safety in U.S. hospitals.

An update to the 2001 publication Making Health Care Safer: A Critical Analysis of Patient Safety Practices, the new report reflects just how much the science of safety has advanced.

A decade ago the science was immature; researchers posited quick fixes without fully appreciating the difficulty of challenging and changing accepted behaviors and beliefs.

Today, based on years of work by patient safety researchers—including many at Johns Hopkins—hospitals are able to implement evidence-based solutions to address the most pernicious causes of preventable patient harm. According to the report, here is a list of the top 10 patient safety interventions that hospitals should adopt now.

Read More »A roadmap for patient safety and quality improvement

Dreaming the dream

Susan BoyleThe video of Susan Boyle’s debut on Britain’s Got Talent is well worth watching. She walked on stage, wearing a frumpy dress, overweight and awkward. Members of the audience snickered and rolled their eyes as this 47-year-old told the judges that she wanted to be a singing star. I suspect she had her own doubts. Yet she had the courage to try. She believed in herself and stunned the audience with her voice.

Susan’s story is typical of so many personal journeys. We face skepticism from others, and we are filled with self-doubt. Sometimes we listen to those little voices whispering: You cannot do this. Yet when we overcome the doubts, we are often successful. If we give into those voices, we will surely fail.

This same self-doubt exists in patient safety. I know because I had plenty of uncertainty about my ability to reduce patient harm. More than a decade ago, we decided to reduce central line-associated bloodstream infections on one intensive care unit. We doubted it was possible and whether we could have a role in reducing harm. Most of the physicians thought it couldn’t be done. Sick people get infected, they said. These infections just happen. In our own way, we felt frumpy and awkward.

Initially, we did not debate whether we could stop these infections. We focused on consistently following those practices shown by evidence to reduce them. We had been complying with those practices just 30 percent of the time. Our clinicians agreed that we would follow a checklist to help ensure 100 percent compliance and then see what happened to our infections. As compliance rose, the rates went to nearly zero, and the doubts disappeared.

Read More »Dreaming the dream

A safety checklist for patients

checklistFar too many patients are harmed rather than helped from their interactions with the health care system. While reducing this harm has proven to be devilishly difficult, we have found that checklists help. Checklists help to reduce ambiguity about what to do, to prioritize what is most important, and to clarify the behaviors that are most helpful.

The use of checklists helped to reduce central-line associated bloodstream infections at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, in hospitals throughout Michigan, and now across the United States. Clinicians have begun to develop, implement and evaluate checklists for a variety of other diagnoses and procedures.

Patients can also use checklists to defend themselves against the major causes of preventable harm. Here are a few you can use:

Health care-associated infections

  • Ask about your hospital’s rates of central-line associated bloodstream infections in the intensive care unit. The best hospitals use the definitions provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and have rates less than one infection per 1,000 catheter days. A rate above three should cause concern.
  • Whenever clinicians enter your room, ask if they have washed their hands. Request that visitors also wash their hands often. Washing can be with alcohol gel or soap and water.
  • If you have any type of catheter, ask every day if that catheter can be removed.

Identification errors

  • If you are admitted to the hospital, check your ID bracelet to make sure all information is correct. Staff should use this bracelet to confirm your name before any treatments or tests.
  • If you are making an outpatient visit, staff should ask you to confirm your name and another unique identifier, such as your date of birth, before treatments or tests.
  • Verify that blood and other specimens taken from your body are labeled in front of you.

Read More »A safety checklist for patients